Annie McRantypants

I didn’t get to post Monday and Random Tuesday was all about the contest, which means my posting schedule is hosed for the week. Since variety is the spice of life and all that, I’m defenestrating the schedule until next week. That means you never know what you’ll find here for the next three days, but I will say this: there’s gonna be some nearly nekkid men on here by Friday.

Anyway, I woke up this morning and put on my ranty-pants, so I’ve got to handle that first. Rejections. There are a lot of schools of thought as to how a writer should deal with them. Some people hide them or immediately throw them away. Some people keep a scrapbook, some people pin them on the wall and throw darts at them. Some people post them on the internet and others keep a running tally of how many they receive. Me, I think it’s important to stay positive and move on. So that person didn’t get your work; someone else will, unless it’s really, heinously bad. I cling to the mantra of that’s one person’s opinion. That mindset helps a lot.

So really, what I want to talk about at this point is the feedback that comes along with a rejection from an agent or editor. Some writers, usually folks just starting out, get all riled up because this person doesn’t send specific feedback, telling her why this precious wondrous gem got rejected. First of all, that’s not in the job description. These people are industry professionals and they don’t get paid to crit. It’s really a yes / no decision. I get that, and I’m perfectly happy with a rejection that just says, “No,” or “Not right for me at this time.”

My gripe is this: rejections with monumentally unhelpful feedback. Like “I couldn’t connect with the characters,” or “The premise was engaging, but ultimately the plot seemed too familiar.” Okay, what? That’s publisher-doublespeak that means, “No.” At the base of it, it simply means no, and the writer can’t do anything with that “feedback” to try and improve her book. She can only drive herself crazy wondering what the hell it means.

The coldest rejection I ever got from an agent, after she’d requested the full was, “I will not be offering you representation at this time.” That’s it, a one line email, maybe a month after I sent the full. I got frostbite from that email, dudes, but it got the job done and I didn’t waste time fretting over it. I actually preferred that one to the touchy-feely note from another agent explaining that she’d been so excited about my book and about the possibility of working with me, but “as it turns out…” See, it’s still a no. All the sugar plums and fairy dust you sprinkle on it doesn’t make it a yes. And yes, the touchy-feely email offered some of that fortune cookie feedback, where you need to be Confucius to decipher it.

Now I know a lot of soft-skinned writers like the touchy-feely feedback, even when it doesn’t actually mean anything because that offers some personal contact, but I prefer a simple rejection. If the person has time to write something I can use, like, “The heroine’s motivation for sheltering a strange man at the start of chapter two needs work,” then I’m all for that. I can do something with that. Otherwise, just tell me no. I’m not Confucius.

Posted in rant

16 Responses to Annie McRantypants

  1. carrie_lofty says:

    Bloglines has proved unreliable. Some blogs are updating and it’s not telling me. Yours, for example.

    Anyway, I read somewhere a post comment that said he actually preferred the “dear author” brush-off salutation because you know, striaght off, that it’s a no. My best rejection complimented my query but said my writing was too slow. Good!! I can check “learn to write a query” off my mental to do list. And now I’ve slain the slow opening dragon. Ha! Look kids, mommy’s learnin’!!

    I’m off to what else I’ve missed from your blog…

  2. carrie_lofty says:

    Didn’t miss much, other than to learn I totally lucked out with your piss easy first contest… :)

  3. Ann(ie) says:

    He has a point.

    It should be noticed that I haven’t received any of these frustrating feedback rejections myself lately but a friend did and we were talking about them. I started thinking about all the stuff that’s been said over the years and decided to blog about it.

  4. Cynthia Eden says:

    When I first started submitting, I’d immediately throw away my rejections–still do. Don’t want that negativity around. But, for me, I saw an evolution in my rejections. They started out as the form no’s. Then they began to have more personal feedback (and yes, you do need to be Confucious to decipher some of that!), but then the feedback became more specific, and eventually I got to a point where an editor who had rejected my story but liked my writing emailed me b/c she wanted me to write a novella for her.

    So, the moral of my rambling story? Rejections suck, but they can evenutally pay off.

  5. Bonnie Dee says:

    I’ve kept my rejection letters as well as acceptance because Stephen King mention in his book “On Writing” that he did that. Had a nail in his wall where he kept the stack of rejections as they came in, and counted himself lucky if one occasionally had a personal note from the editor.

    I don’t care about rejection as long as it’s quick! I hate waiting months for it. Quickest I got recently was a letter from St. Martin’s Press within a week of sending a query. THANK YOU!

  6. Ann(ie) says:

    What a cool story, Cynthia! It’s awesome to feel like you’re getting somewhere.

    Bonnie, waiting is one of the worst parts of being a writer, but there’s no help for it. Working on another project takes my mind off it.

  7. pure says:

    I’m a visual artist by hobby (still working out how to make money on that) and I love my rejection letters. It means they actually took a moment to open the packet I sent and say “bleh” and spent the 2 minutes to type my name in a form and mail it off to me. Too often, I never hear back or get my samples back (even with the SASE).
    The only time I’ve ever gotten feed back was 2 years ago. I enter an major fantasy/scifi competition ever year and have politely been turned down for 6 years now but apparently one of the judges recognizes my work and went to the effort of making a photo copy of the image and jotting tips and suggestions and stated that if I continued to develop along my current road, I could expect good things. Gobsmacked me. Here is a rather famous guy that I idolize telling me that he likes my work and sees a future for me. Future hasn’t put in an appearance yet but I’m still working on it.

  8. Ann(ie) says:

    I love hearing from people who maintain a positive outlook. Sometimes a rejection (without or without Confucian feedback) doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your story. It just means that person didn’t like it. I think our first reactions are to try and “fix” the story when it might not even be broken. We just need to get it in front of the right person and time it right, market-wise. There are so many factors that contribute, it makes me dizzy.

    PS I turned off word verification cos that’s hella annoying. I wanna make it easy for people to comment.

  9. Cora Zane says:

    This is a really good subject to tackle. Personally, when it comes to rejections, I can take them with a grain of salt. In fact, I tend to take R’s far better than a crappy review – and that book got accepted somewhere!

    I read a rejection, mark that company off my list, and keep going. Simple as that.

    And as far as my preference for the actual rejection itself, I prefer the one-liners like, *Sorry, writer, this one’s not for us.* Those feel far less personal and save me a lot of time wondering over the editor’s every word.

    (Does “just not what we’re looking for at this time” mean that my book totally sucked? It wasn’t trendy enough? Maybe if I rewrote it and resubmitted…?)

    Everyone is a critic, and granted I haven’t attempted to find an agent, yet so I have yet to experience the sting there. However, I’d much rather get the big R from a publisher who doesn’t feel I’m quite right for them, than to get my book in their doors and find out that they don’t know what the heck to do with it, or how to market it.

  10. April says:

    Submitting and getting rejected in writing or art is a lot like a job hunt. I’ve been on many a job hunt and have found that the more you do it, the thicker your skin gets. It’s a numbers game, like the average girl’s guide to getting laid, actually.

    I’d collect about 20-25 potential job ads every week, the ones that looked like it might be either an okay or a great fit for my skills even if it wasn’t spot on, and submit my resume to them by fax, mail, or e-mail — that’s about 100 a month. Out of those 100, I’d get maybe 15-30 positive responses — call backs for more information, for instance. And out of those, I might get 5-10 interviews, a fifth of which might go into a second interview. Company isn’t interested in me? That’s okay. That leaves me open for something better. That was my point of view.

    But the point is, I’d play the numbers game and within 6-10 weeks, I’d find myself a new job. I did this every year for about five years, so I pretty much have a thick leather hide now.

  11. Ann(ie) says:

    Me too, Cora. I prefer rejections to be succint and get the job done.

    April, that’s how I used to look for jobs too. It really is a numbers game. That’s what made me think that angle could be used in Guide since she was thinking of it like “work”.

  12. Rebecca says:

    rejections suck – warm or cold (although that one line “I will not be offering representation at this time” would have actually made me paranoid in the past …have I caused offence? Oh no…. she/he HATES me….does my writing suck that much? …..now I wouold just put it down to an agent be unwilling to engage – at ALL)

    But, the real reason for my comment – I had to say – that word ‘defenestration’ is so very, very cool. I had to look it up. It wasn’t in my paper dictionary (the Australian Penguin Macquarie is USELESS)but I looked for it on wikipedia and found this:

    Historically, the word defenestration was used to refer to an act of political dissent. Notably, the Defenestrations of Prague in 1419 and 1618 helped to trigger prolonged conflict within Bohemia and beyond. Catholics ascribed the survival of those defenestrated (thrown out the window)at Prague Castle in 1618 to divine intervention, while Protestants claimed that it was due to their landing in a large pile of manure.

  13. Michele Lee says:

    I keep track of my subs, and set a goal at the beginning of the year, because it’s a solid number that I can look at to see that I’m actually trying. I keep them all organized too so I don’t resub to a place I got a reject from. I keep the rejects just in case. So that I can redo my records, or look back to see how far that story is getting and if I’m getting the same comments over and over.

    The only rejects that get to me are the ones where people tell me my facts are wrong. I have one story that has a slaughter of a cow in it (off screen, for food). One editor told me no farmer slaughters their own meat anymore. Another said only male cows and old females make it to meat. Both are untrue. My mother-in-law lives between several beef cow farms, cows not milked at all, raised just for beef. And at a barn I used to work at we raised and roasted our own labor day meat. So those kinds of comments are the only ones that really get to me.

  14. Anonymous says:

    The first time I submitted something to a publisher, I was 18, and I didn’t know anything. I broke all the rules, I even used glittery paper or something for my cover letter.

    The letter came back with a handwritten rejection that read, “Write fan-fiction for ten years, then try again.”

    Seriously.

  15. lainey bancroft says:

    I keep ‘em, but in a file, not displayed like a badge of honor. I agree, ‘not for us’ is the best thing. Trying to analyze wishy-washy comments is pointless. They didn’t want it. Period. Why doesn’t matter, so why would you attempt to ‘fix’ something they didn’t want?

    I think my worst R was the agent full where they made positive comments on the pacing, the dialogue and even the ‘sexy premiss’ but then said they’d opted to no longer rep anything in the romance genre b/c ‘editors are tired of acquiring new authors and its too hard to place’

    Huh???

  16. lacey kaye says:

    Amen!

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